What is Quals?
Qualifying Exam (Quals) or Preliminary Exam (Prelims) or Generals is THE examination that qualifies/transitions a graduate student to continue graduate studies.
The quals varies based on institutions, but there are some basic concepts that they all follow. Most Bio-med programs (Bio-med might include STEM: Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) follow these concepts. These concepts include some or all of these:
1. A Written Thesis Proposal (or a proposal based on something other than your thesis project)
2. An Oral Examination (Presentation) (might be chalk board or powerpoint)
3. You must have completed some basic requirements such as classes, lab rotations, TAship, ...
4. You should have a good idea what your short term and long term goals are, as far as your research goes. Although this might be tentative (that's ok), you should be able to back up your reasoning.
My quals process started in January with Choosing Committee Members (which I will probably write a post on soon). Then a preliminary meeting in March with my chosen committee members and my Mentor. Then a set date for my exam in July. My written proposal is based on my thesis project, so I had to be as confident in my ideas as I can possibly can without becoming over-confident or obnoxious. You should however be the most knowledgeable on YOUR ideas in the room. My exam was on July 19th 2012 and lasted a little over two and a half hours (2 1\2 hrs).
It was pretty serious and I was tensed the first 10 mins, I relaxed into my presentation and grew confident as they asked me questions. They stopped me as I presented to ask questions. My first question came pretty much after my third slide and went on like that for most slides. I had about 28 slides excluding my title slide, biography slide and the outlines. The most questions came on my motivation slides, which explained the motivation for deciding to conduct this project and my preliminary data slides, which, although the committee actually liked my data, they still bombarded me with questions about them and wanted to see more. I guess that's good in a way.
Overall, I can honestly say that my committee and I had more discussion sessions than question and answer sessions. I was strong in my general biology, immunology, developmental and metabolism background but not so strong in my Biochemistry. My PI/Mentor was amazingly awesome in contributing sparse vital information on my behalf, yet he remained mostly inconspicuous verbally for the most part.
After passing quals, some people refer to themselves as ABD (All But Dissertation). This means they have fulfilled all requirements for graduate training and are only left with defending their thesis.
How do I feel after passing quals? Like this: